Fire chiefs have voiced their concerns after 961 firefighters were attacked during the bonfire night period.
The stark warning comes from the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) as Home Office statistics show attacks on firefighters rose from 578 to 961 between 2014/5 and 2018/9. And in the last year there were 897 attacks recorded,
In some areas of the country, firefighters can no longer attend some types of fires – unless they have a police escort. NFCC warns these can escalate quickly into large scale fires, putting properties and lives at risk.
Chris Lowther, Chair of NFCC’s Operations Committee and Chief Fire Officer for Tyne and Wear, has urged people to show respect to all emergency service workers. He has also called for the courts to hand out the maximum jail sentences available to send a clear message.
He confirmed in parts of Tyne and Wear firefighters cannot attend a secondary fire – a small outdoor fire or a fire on grassland or derelict buildings – without police in attendance.
He said: “It is disgraceful that firefighters are attacked when trying to protect the communities they serve; ultimately saving lives. I would like to see custodial sentences handed out as we need a deterrent which makes people think twice. Jail sentences for attacks on emergency services workers are very rare; this needs to change.
“Attacking firefighters is abhorrent; if one or two members of staff are injured on a shift, this can result in fire appliances having to be taken off the road while other staff are called in. This leaves communities at risk if there is a major incident.”
Some fire services have reported an increase in attacks of firefighters during COVID-19. Mr Lowther has said in his own service, there have been physical assaults, including missiles such as fireworks and bottles thrown at firefighters.
As well as stronger sentencing, NFCC would like to see body worn cameras made available to all firefighters, which would assist the courts by providing vital evidence.
NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher made it clear that chief fire officers in every UK fire and rescue service have responsibility for the health and well-being of all firefighters. “As part of their duty of care – which every chief fire officer takes very seriously – measures including technology which can help to protect them should be fully utilised. The purpose of these cameras is to record assaults and bring those attacking firefighters to justice.
“NFCC made it clear we are we are disgusted with emergency services being attacked and wanted to see the courts have legislation to give out longer jail sentences. This has now been increased from 12 to 24 months, but we now need to see stronger sentences imposed to send a clear message. Emergency services staff must be treated with the respect they deserve; blue light services are here to keep people safe.
“NFCC is issuing advice on how to hold safe displays at home, although this year we would urge people to find other ways to celebrate Bonfire Night.”
Mr Lowther added: “In my professional opinion, we are likely to see an increase in antisocial behaviour this year as people are not attending organised displays and may flout current COVID-19 laws. Due to restrictions, fire services have not been able to do their normal educational activities, which could also have an impact.”